WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When House Republican leaders left Washington for their Fourth of July break, they felt good about outwitting the Democratic majority. The feeling was not reciprocated 3,000 miles away, where conservative California Republican activists were drafting an ultimatum. The Lincoln Club of Orange County is telling GOP leaders of both the House and Senate that it is too late to repent. They must go -- or else lose big money.
The message: "Come Nov. 5, should the current GOP leadership in either house survive to lead in a new Congress, the Lincoln Club of Orange County will review the financial backing of all congressional Republicans, and we urge others to do likewise. A GOP caucus that would re-elect such leaders is not one we would likely continue to support. Because, simply put, we refuse to support a permanent minority."
The Lincoln Club estimates that its nearly 300 members will individually contribute $1.5 million to federal causes and candidates in the 2008 election cycle. The club is spreading its message to angry Republicans throughout California and around the nation. The ultimatum finds responsive members of the House (if not the Senate), who even now are preparing a housecleaning after the additional loss of seats in this year's election.
House GOP leaders were triumphant June 27 as Congress recessed for a week. They had passed war funding and telephone surveillance bills with solid Republican backing and minority Democratic support. Chairman David Obey had just shut down the Appropriations Committee process so that Democrats would not be forced to vote on Republican oil-drilling proposals. The Republican leaders congratulated themselves that they were winning the debate over whether boosting production or curbing speculation is the proper response to runaway gasoline prices.
Unfortunately, say Republican reformers, it looked like the operation was a great success but the patient died. Popular though expanded drilling may be, Republicans are blamed for four-dollar gasoline. Away from the party leadership table, members blame a negative Republican image created by leaders.
That's the view of the Lincoln Club paper signed by Rich Wagner, its president, and Chip Hanlon, a board member. It deplores refusal by party leaders to support a one-year moratorium on earmarks, whose 285 percent growth when Congress was under Republican control is "the perfect symbol of the GOP-led profligacy that drives us crazy still." Earmarks "epitomize the fiscal recklessness that led to Republicans becoming a minority in 2006. ... It's no wonder the Republican leadership continued to fail on ... entitlement reform and a reduction in federal spending."
The Lincoln Club blasts conservative Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, whose personal earmarks totaled $83 million last year, for defending his pork as "being entrepreneurial about bringing something home." It also assails conservative Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, a member of the leadership who has opposed earmark reform and voted on the floor against only one earmark. With his annual earmarks totaling $22.5 million, McCotter declared a year ago, "I will not unilaterally disarm my donor state."
On June 25, however, McCotter apparently felt enough heat to disarm unilaterally, with a surprise announcement that he had requested no earmarks this year. It may be too late for the 42-year-old third-termer, threatened with losing his House Republican Policy Committee chairmanship after only two years if the Lincoln Club of Orange County gets its desired clean sweep.
"We urge other Republican donor groups to reinforce this important beginning," read the club's ultimatum, adding, "It is not credible to ask the American people to return Republicans to the majority when all we offer them is the same group of leaders and policies they so recently rejected."
The statement asserts these leaders "have no idea what we say when we get together" and are "still oblivious to the source of our discontent." Now, if these contributors have their way, it is too late for the leaders. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who began his campaign for re-election in Kentucky by bragging about his earmarks for the state, probably has more to worry about from his Democratic election foe than insurgent Republican senators. House Minority Leader John Boehner, who sponsors no earmarks himself but has not backed reform, faces an all-too serious challenge.